balancing need

Credit: magnitudemedia

Credit: magnitudemedia

Surrounded by abundance sometimes
I forget to balance my own needs
with all the others that move in
and around my just-full-enough life

wrapping their tendrils around fragile
lessons learned through lean and bend
or occasional SNAP! of the too-long held
whose growing time is passed, yet clings

as if tenacity might bring renewed growth
to the vine yet instead, crowds out
young energy sprawling itself greenly
into tomorrow. Today it’s balance I want

to re-member as I mold my pieces together —
old, new, not-yet-become or even imagined . . .
How one plucked blossom emerges again
and again into ongoing abundance, season

upon season! Love is like that. Balance, too.
The more we practice, the easier it becomes.
The more we have, the more there is.
The more we give, the more we get.

I strive to recall the simplicity of this knowing
that balance is a practice like writing, love –
not a cancellation of one extreme
for the other. No erasure, just active paradox

reaching a shared sense of purpose,
achieved with intention and focus
looping and turning to create a whole
of otherwise disparate parts.

With time.
With practice.
With patience.


the glass contessa

Stained glass Contessa by Moretti Casselli, Perugia

Stained glass Regina Margherita by Moretti Casselli, Perugia

Continuing my practice started in October with poems of gratitude and awe for the Italian craftswomen we visited – remember ‘Only From the Heart’? – I share here the incredible work of the Moretti Caselli family, known around the world for their signature stained glass painting technique. I recently sent this poem to Maddalena and her mother Anna, who plan to post it on their website.

     for Anna and Maddalena Forenza
Museo Moretti Caselli, Perugia, Italy

Rounding the alley right on time
we enter another age, worn stone
rising the height of walls
to fend off the unwelcome; yet

here we are pushing a small dot
on a brass plaque in the drear of rain
musty stone layered above and beneath
our sodden feet, no soul in sight

but us bedraggled pilgrims
seeking a sign, perhaps
to show us toward light,
a way familiar or welcome.

As quiet as the moments spent
breath held in question, answer comes
through narrow wooden door cracked upon
a serious face beneath black curls;

her hand waves us in, our universe
now at peace to be received,
though speech a wall as hard as those
of this 15th century fortress; we

gesture, smile, incline the head
absorb the luster of a name
unknown to us, a pioneer
of monumental heights

his stained glass legacy etched
painted, mounted, viewed in church
and museum both here and abroad,
the Caselli dynasty passed

father to daughter to niece to daughter;
fifth-generation artisan of glass and pen
Maddalena aglow with desire
to express in words the import

of this hidden art that shines
in light of day. Wordless, we admire
samples, tools, cast hands and feet,
practice pieces faded now

that proclaim the eye and hand
of master art, intimate in each detail.
And then she unveils the
so life-like we extend our hands

as if to grasp the one held out
yet flat as the surface that shed its light
creating this illusion of depth
emanating from centuries-old glass

in vivid color, style that captures
fold and shine of shimmered silk,
the regal glow of flawless skin
shining through this dyeing art

standing still, defenseless, yet
protected by the age-old walls
that welcome us behind a façade
of cold and forbidding stone.


 * she represents Regina Margherita de Savoia of the late 19th century; when Maddalena was describing her to u,, I heard ‘contessa’ rather than queen and the name stuck.

the incredible power of women’s wisdom


“The vision statement of Gather the Women Global Matrix concludes with the line, “Together we can activate the incredible power of women’s wisdom on a planetary scale.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Women are speaking out against rape in India. Women are vaccinating children against polio in Afghanistan and, shockingly, paying for it with their lives. Women are brave souls.

As we start the new year, let us honor ourselves and all women for what we do. When we gather in our circles of women, let us take time to acknowledge our activism, our contributions, our nurturing, our humor, our wisdom, and anything else that we value. For once, set the self-deprecation aside. Speak up. Be true to yourself.” from ‘Activating the incredible power of women’s wisdom’ posted 1/7/13 by Barbara Belnap on Gather the Women’s blog (the name of the group comes from Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book of the same title, Urgent Message from Mother: Gather the Women, Save the World.)  A fabulous book, by the way, well worth reading. Again and again.

And, of course yesterday, February 14th, was One Billion Rising. Smack dab in the middle of our writing circle yesterday morning, we rose up and danced around the room joining our determined energy with women around the globe to stop violence against women and girls. While true, of course, that a small group of women dancing in an obscure writing studio in northwest Vermont in and of itself will not change anything, the symbolism is undeniable: change starts with each one of us, women and men.

Whatever it takes, we must change beliefs that permit females of all ages to be sexually abused, to be routine targets of senseless violence. There is much to say on the subject, and I for one shall continue to do so. Meanwhile, check out some of the video clips of the day’s Risings around the globe. Read Annie Finch’s Invocation for the One Billion Rising, premiered in Portland ME yesterday. Raise your voice. Write your stories. Contact your leaders. Get involved. Don’t stop dancing and rising and demanding – now is the time and WE ARE THE ONES we have been waiting for (thank you, Sweet Honey in the Rock!).

early morning kayak, mixed



‘early morning kayak,’ by faith

My three adult children made a Google hang-out date with me for this morning. Today is my birthday; they wanted to be ‘with’ me when I opened their gift which arrived in the mail three days ago. Turns out this project has been in the making for months – at least four or six.

Here’s the full story. My son Josh loved a small poem I posted while he was away in Ghana for the six months in 2012. While he was on a three-day weekend break from his work there, he decided to pen a tune for it – as he describes it, the notes flowed from the poem through him. Next phase: he and his younger sister Caitlyn spent a reunion weekend together when he got back Stateside in November. At that time, they apparently recorded and re-recorded the song until it felt just right to them. I do not know at what point his older sister Faith got into the project: all I do know is, her artwork graces the CD cover. Today I located and promptly framed the original. My lopsided photo doesn’t do it justice, but it felt important to have as much of the total package together here as possible.

For once in my life, I was/am utterly speechless. With awe. With gratitude. With the absolute certainty that THIS is what is important in life – knowing and being known by loved ones who take the time to connect through their own respective gifts. May you also enjoy them – lyrics by myself, music by Josh, sung by Caitlyn, with cover art by Faith. Early Morning Kayak (Music (C) Joshua C. Hester, 2012)

Ahead of swimmers and breakfast,
slip silently through morning waters
stroke forward, glide, repeat
floating free from routine constraints,
giving up and in to the lulling roll,
the rhythms of the sea.


rebel without cause

(as published this morning on Minerva Rising’s blog)

credit istock

credit istock

‘I am not human, I’m Sarah’ was perhaps my earliest form of rebellion, in response to the taunting of older siblings. But it stuck. To this day I defy rules, cannot sign on the right line, fail miserably at standardized box-filling forms, refuse to follow recipes to the letter (aren’t they supposed to be mere suggestions from which to create your own variations?), and rarely even follow my own agenda for a workshop I’m leading.

Since my earliest days I found comfort in defining myself in every possible way as ‘other’ from my family. At first, this defensive posture was a sorry cover-up for feeling left out, not measuring up to the demands of intellectual discourse at meals. Later, my rebelliousness played out in refusal to wear the beautiful clothes my mother thought appropriate, electing instead to shop second-hand, creating my own style along with my own values of frugality and originality.  As a not-so-young new mother, I was constantly challenged by sage pronouncements that ‘consistency’ equaled good/successful parenting. Me? Do the same thing twice?? Despite my inborn propensities to the contrary, I was able deliver two absolute consistencies during my children’s growing-up years: their 7 p.m. bedtime; and my consistent lack of consistency in every other respect.

And here’s what all this rebelling has taught me over the years: as a defense mechanism, it lacks substance. I spent an awful lot of time and energy, psychic and otherwise, defining myself as who I was NOT, when I would have done well to figure out the opposite. Living in negative space works best if you are a painting. Rebellion as a stance for living also tends to emit closed-mindedness – even if only perceived – because it requires so much nay-saying.  It can make you appear abrasive when inside you are simply scared and searching.

But perhaps the longest-lasting and most deep-seated lesson from living rebellion is how it kept me from myself. I have finally come to believe that accepting everything about myself – my differences from my family, my personal values and tastes, my very voice – are not only enough; they are abundantly OK. I do not need to live in the shadow of others’ negative opinions, even if they were the ones that originally formed me. In fact, living right out in the light of my own opinions and choices creates confidence, balance and good health. Watching the women with whom I write weekly inside Vermont’s women’s prison reach this same conclusion clinches it for me: we often imprison ourselves behind walls of our own making. Looking around them takes courage; knocking them down brings true freedom.

What I most rebel against today is the extreme polarization of our society that pushes us to one end of the yardstick or the other. Most of us live somewhere between ‘with’ and ‘against,’ more often inhabiting a mix of the two. Don’t believe in war but feel protected with a strong military? Pro-life AND pro-gun? I am learning, thanks to my children’s own parting of ways from my own, to speak what resonates and let myself continue along my path of inconsistency. For instance, I am drawn to the ‘Life is Precious’ bumper sticker because life is indeed precious; the image of the single rose is simple, speaks to me. At the same time, I am pro-choice in certain specific scenarios. This is what it means to be human, after all. To think, feel, choose; evolve over the course of a lifetime; allow yourself to be persuaded by evidence; manage a balance between personal values and public action, preferably in service to the common weal while harming no one.

I am still Sarah. AND I am most definitely human.